Advise and Discuss
by Stephen Schwartz
ON TUESDAY, November 8, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee held a previously-postponed hearing, titled "Saudi Arabia: Friend or Foe in the War on Terror?" The object of the hearing was to air expert comment on the Saudi Arabia Accountability Act of 2005 (see here). Specifically, the hearing examined a Freedom House report titled "Saudi Publications on Hate Ideology Invade American Mosques," which was issued last January.
The proposed Saudi Arabia Accountability Act, shepherded by Sen. Arlen Specter, has failed to muster much support in the Senate; some senatorial critics of the Saudis consider it too weak, others are fearful of Islamic reaction.
The very action of holding the hearing was denounced by James Zogby, founder and president of the Arab American Institute.
Nevertheless, notable testimony critical of the Saudis was given by Nina Shea of Freedom House and Steven Emerson of the Investigative Project. Shea's presentation included the following:
The U.S. government should issue a formal demarche urging the government of Saudi Arabia to cease funding or providing other support for written materials or activities that explicitly promote hate, intolerance, and human rights violations. Further it should urge the government of Saudi Arabia to:
The principal defender of the Saudis at the hearing was Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The Washington Post described his view of Saudi Arabia as "a more positive assessment" than Shea's and Emerson's. Cordesman tried to shift responsibility for terrorist incitement away from Wahhabi clerics.
Daniel Glaser, Treasury deputy assistant secretary for Terrorist Financing and Financial Crimes, allowed that the Saudis had shut down terror-financing charities inside their territory but let these operations to continue their work abroad.
The new Saudi ambassador to Washington, prince Turki al-Faisal, responded to the event with disclaimers of Saudi culpability in Wahhabi incitement to terror. According to Turki, "The Kingdom is currently in the middle of a multi-year program to update textbooks and curriculums, introduce new teaching methods and provide better training for our teachers . . . These reforms extend to our religious schools as well. Imams are prohibited from incitement and talk of intolerance in our mosques." The kingdom has also placed antiterrorist public service announcements on television.
Yet PSAs can't hide the fact that at the most fundamental level, the Saudi response to terrorism remains weak. A five-part study of the emergence of terrorism and extremism in the kingdom, published in October in the daily Al-Riyad and released by the U.S. government's Foreign Broadcast Information Service, is notable for its curiously opaque language. Islamist extremism is described as a "dubious ideology" of a "misguided faction," not as murderous terrorism. The study argues that this problem "can only be remedied by discussion and advice."
Action, of course, might work, too. President Bush could also call on the Saudi authorities to arrest and try the financiers of al Qaeda, who have been identified, and all of whom continue to walk the streets of Saudi Arabia freely. Their names include those of the rich businessmen and charity administrators such as Yasin Kadi, Saleh Abdullah Kamel, and Adel Abdeljalil Batterjee.
And the passage of the Saudi Arabia Accountability Act could also help.